Excerpt: Fairytales Slashed: Volume 8
Tam Lin by Kathleen Danielson
The first time Anabiel saw Tamlin, she was older than a kit but still yet a maiden. It was Halloween eve, and she had slipped away from the merry-making in town to escape the taunts of her father and brothers who, drunk on harvest ale, teased her about coming of age. It was custom in the village for all vixens, when they came of age, to race through the Winterwood and choose a husband from the todds pursuing her as suitors. Anabiel, with her mouse-brown fur and slender frame, was still a year too young for such things.
“In a year,” her brothers had jeered, “our little sister is finally going to become a vixen!” They had followed their taunt with crude pelvic thrusts and a battery of lewd jokes. “A todd will come and give your tail its white tip!”
“Will he, now?” Anabiel had retorted. “Is that how you got yours?”
Her brothers had not been amused, and had dumped her in the pig trough for that one.
Anabiel didn’t want a husband.
No todd in the village made her feel as she supposed she should. She never quivered with anticipation or trembled at the sight of a male in all his glory as the bawdy tales claimed she would. Not once. In truth, it was only Bonnibelle, the miller’s daughter, that had ever made her feel so. Though they had exchanged soft kisses and more behind the windmill, Bonnibelle had been happily married to Reid, the butcher’s son, just last season, and had lost all interest in Anabiel. Since then, not a single stirring. Not so much as a shiver.
It wasn’t that the todds were ill-looking. Many were quite handsome. But they all seemed to lack for something and not one of them truly caught her fancy.
Perhaps I have been damned, she thought as she wandered the forest path alone. Damned for dallying with another vixen as the Good Book always warned.
The moon cut through the fraying leaves of autumn, laying silver knives of light across the path. Anabiel frolicked betwixt and between them, dancing from light to shade as if daring the moon to catch her, and didn’t realize she had reached the forest spring until she heard something behind her: a whisper through the brush out of step with the wind, a subtle snap of a twig under a foot that was not her own. She froze, auburn tail still under her skirt and her black-tipped ears straining against the night.
She turned, and there he was.
A todd stepped from the shadows, his russet fur limned with moonlight. He wasn’t hard or sharp the way the other todds were. No, he was sleek and curved, like a bow. He wore only a pair of fawn-colored breeches, bare paws as dark as the dirt he trod upon. He glided across the clearing with the poised, delicate step of a dancer. He knelt beside the spring and dipped his muzzle into the moonlit pond.
Anabiel crept closer and closer, until she could count the beads of water strung like diamonds on his whiskers. If she could just catch his scent, she could follow him, maybe discover who he was and why he came to the spring at this hour for a drink.
But before she could get close enough, he froze, staring in her direction. Green eyes flashed in the darkness as he looked at her, not with anger but surprise. The todd stood still, as if waiting for something. Anabiel opened her mouth to introduce herself, and suddenly, he was gone, white-tipped tail vanishing into the darkened underbrush.
Startled herself, Anabiel dashed back the way she had come. Later, she cursed herself for running like a kit instead of staying and following the strange todd’s trail. She dared not tell her father or brothers of what she saw for fear of being branded a harlot. A vixen could be alone with another vixen, but any todd who wasn’t her husband was forbidden. So the next morning, she snuck across the village square and sniffed out the old crone and storyteller Vex to see what she might know. Perhaps a wandering todd had come to town for the festivities? If anyone in the town would know of the strange todd, it was Vex. No piece of rumor or gossip missed the sharp grey ears of that old fox!
“Ah, Anabiel, my little Belle, that would be Tamlin you saw in the forest,” Vex said. “Best put it out of your mind. No power in this world or the next will save him from the Dark Faerie Queen’s clutches. Tamlin’s been haunting the Winterwood since my dame’s gran-dame’s time. Maeve keeps what she claims.” Vex spat into the fire upon speaking the Faerie Queen’s name and bared her crooked teeth.
Riding Red by Charles Payseur
Red frowned as he looked down at himself, at the dress Big must have picked out. It was shorter than he would have liked, coming down well north of his knees, with a bright red ribbon that cinched at the waist and dangled to tickle his thighs. The dress was plain white, just a bit gauzy, and he wore a padded bra underneath to give him the illusion of a modest bust. A bright red cloak completed the look, tied over his chest with another bow of red ribbon. He looked ridiculous. A bit hot, but mostly ridiculous.
“This is never going to work,” he said, turning slowly, not really sure he wanted to know where Big got the outfit.
“Of course it will,” Big said, standing nearby, mouth hanging open slightly as he regarded Red with an obviously hungry expression. Red took a deep breath. Of course it was him wearing the dress. Big lived up to his nickname, standing easily six-foot-five and as wide as an oak, his bare chest like a collection of smooth stonework. Smooth for the moment, at least. As a shifter, Big could sprout fur and a muzzle, razor-sharp teeth and long claws. Whatever his form, though, his ice blue eyes and lean, honed body were the antithesis of small.
“At least, it had better,” Big said, and shoved the basket he had been carrying since they left town at Red, who eyed it skeptically. “I spent the last of our money on the dress and this basket of baked goods.”
Red ran a hand over his face. Of course. Well, it wasn’t really a surprise. They had been running low on funds ever since they had failed to sell their “security system” to that family of bears. It seemed like forever ago that they had scored big fencing that shipment of stolen bricks to a village of little pigs. One staged “big bad wolf” attack had convinced them all that hay and sticks were no adequate way to build.
“So what’s the plan?” Red asked, figuring work was work. It would be nice, at least, not sneaking out of inns in the middle of the night with unpaid tabs. Or selling fake magic carpets and genie lamps to gullible tourists and lost princes.
“There’s a rich old woman who lives in the woods,” Big said. “Rumor is she’s getting on a bit in years and brain power. Easily confused. No family to speak of.” Big smiled.
“And?” Red asked, rolling his eyes, knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“And wouldn’t it be rather convenient if it turns out she has a long-lost granddaughter to bequeath all her money to?”
Red closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Long-lost granddaughter?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Big replied, grinning now, obviously proud of himself.
“You said she had no family,” Red said. “Which means, I’m guessing, no children. Which means, most definitely, that she’d know if she had any grandchildren.”
“Details,” Big said, waving his hands as if they cast a spell to fill in the holes in his plan. “She’s old. Confused. You show up, claiming to be her granddaughter, waving cookies and scones in her face. She’s probably desperate for someone to give her money to. It’s in the bag.”
“And why grand-daughter, anyway?” Red asked, indicating the dress. It wasn’t that it looked bad on him, really. He was on the thin side and despite being twenty-five years old—only a little younger than Big—with the dress on and his long, golden hair braided, he knew he looked much younger. But he could have passed for a younger man just as easily.
Big gave a nervous chuckle. “Uh, because she’ll be less threatened if you’re a woman?” he asked more than said. Red pursed his lips, then turned slightly and slowly pulled the dress up, revealing more of his thighs.
“I just think you wanted to see me in a dress,” Red said, and Big cleared his throat. Even with the macho hunter exterior and the professional conman attitude, he was definitely blushing. Big made a small, hungry sound in his throat as Red got the fabric to the soft curve of his ass, which was covered in the tight lace of a woman’s undergarment that Big had insisted completed the ensemble.
Red sighed and let the fabric fall back to his sides. Instantly, Big was up and to him, solid arms wrapping around Red’s smaller frame.
“Having second thoughts?” Big asked, and Red nearly laughed but for the frightened expression on Big’s face. For such a strong man, he was surprisingly sensitive. Red suspected there was a story there: some hurt that had worked itself so deep that Big hardly trusted himself. Maybe it had to with his curse, with being a werewolf. Big certainly never talked about it. But Big was also the gentlest, the most caring man that Red had ever known. Perhaps not the best at planning, but still…
Red knew when to admit defeat. “Just don’t you dare tell anyone about this,” he said.
Big grinned a second before he pressed his mouth against Red’s, all hard muscles and soft lips and heat. Red felt himself stir in the confines of his panties. And if he enjoyed the sensation of the way they cupped him, what of it?
“Well, let’s do this,” he said after breaking their kiss. Work was work, after all. Afterward, there would still be plenty of time for fun.